Tag Archives: Civil War

The Losing of the Lost Cause

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In the painting “With Flags Flying” by Mort Kunstler, Brig. General Lew Armistead leads his men up Cemetery Ridge with his hat atop his sword during the ill fated Pickett’s Charge.

Today we mark the end of what is variously called The War Between the States, The War of Northern Aggression, The War of Southern Independence, Abe Lincoln’s War, or — most neutrally — The American Civil War. Now, I know enough history to know the war ended in toto on April 12, 1865  at Appomattox Courthouse, but for all intents, the Confederacy lost the war July 3, 1863; it just took two more years to realize it, but in military terms, the South lost the war at the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended 150 years ago today.

Since it is impossible to duck slavery when the Civil War is the topic, I’ll say anyone who says the issue of slavery was the sole cause of the war is ignorant of history; while anyone who says the issue of slavery had nothing to do with the  war is an unmitigated fool. The Civil War had many roots and slavery was the largest, but men also fought for other reasons. This war also shares one tragic trait with all wars , it was started by the rich men and fought by the poor ones.

Regardless of origins, the three-day Battle of Gettysburg made clear what anyone then or now knew all along — the Confederacy was doomed. People — especially my fellow Southerners — like to blather on about how losing the war came down to blockades or lack of allies and other such drivel. They seem to think, as did my sainted great-grandmother Mattie Gray, “If we’d had just one more corn crop we’d have whipped the Yankees.” Nothing is farther from the truth. Truthfully, the South had a snowball’s chance in Columbia, SC of winning the war the moment the battery in Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter.

The northern army outnumbered us in every way that matters in a war: they had more men, more guns, more bullets, more ships, more artillery, more food, and when I say more, I don’t mean a LITTLE more, I mean a crap-load more! We were outnumbered nearly three to one in soldiers alone. Southerners don’t like to hear this, but the only reason we did so well in the first two years of the war was the unbroken string of idiots and morons commanding the Army of the Potomac. Immediately following Gettysburg, President Lincoln called Grant and Sherman east and the gig was up. Those two men realized this wasn’t a garden party and war — by definition — meant a LOT of people die. Though casualties stayed the largely the same in the South while doubling in the North under the new generals’ command, they had way more men to lose than us.

Strangely, the very hopelessness of the War Between the States contributes to its romantic status — at least in the South. The David versus Goliath aspect brings misty tears to wild-eyed Southern boys, and nowhere is this love of the hopeless more apparent than in the concluding action of Gettysburg — one of the bravest, most gallant, most needless, and most useless mass discardings of life in the history of this continent — Pickett’s Charge.

Since books have been written about Pickett’s Charge, I’ll dispense with the details other than this event is known as the “High Watermark of the Confederacy.” For two days, Blue and Grey had pounded one another and it seemed General Lee’s invaders were getting the best of General Meade’s defenders, but they couldn’t break the lines and force an end to the battle. What they needed was a knockout punch and what Lee dreamed up — some believe in the throes of a minor heart attack — was Pickett’s Charge. In a nutshell, 13,000 Southerners under the command of General George Pickett would charge across the ground between the two armies, shatter the Union center, and secure victory for the Army of Northern Virginia.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the long Confederate artillery barrage mostly sailed long and landed harmlessly behind the Union position. Also, Lee  underestimated the damage his army had done in the first two days. Finally, the ground between the positions was smooth, grassy, and devoid of any cover for the attacking Southerners. The result was 13,000 boys in grey marched out against one of the most heavily dug in positions the Union achieved during the war. Cannons firing canister shot (picture huge shotgun blasts) blew hole after hole in the Confederate line and time and again, the Southerners closed ranks around their dead and dying and continued in good order across the killing field. With Southern grit and gallantry, they broke the Union line at the top of the hill . . . only to find Union reinforcements no one knew of.

The fresh bluebellies plugged the gap leaving spent Southerners nowhere to go except back across the open field. Casualties were enormous. Barely an hour after the charge began, over 50% of the attacking force lay dead or dying on the green fields of Gettysburg. General Pickett summed up the scene in his simple, heartbreaking answer to Lee’s order to reform his division in preparation for a counter charge by the Union troops saying, “General, I HAVE no division.” From the High-water Mark of the Confederacy, the Southern troops receded slowly, brokenly, tortuously, but inexorably back into Virginia and on towards Appomattox.

I first heard of the place Pickett’s Charge occupies in Southern legend and myth when my  AP US History teacher, Mr. Sublett, quoted quintessential Southern writer, William Faulkner’s words from Intruder in the Dust:

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out . . . waiting for Longstreet to give the word

I hope everyone has a tremendous Independence Day feast; be careful with the fireworks, remember I love you all and keep your feet clean!

 

 

 

 

Baby, It’s Hot Outside!

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My junior AP History teacher, Mr. Tommy Sublett, was the first aficionado of the late War of Northern Aggression I ever met in person and got to talk to at length. I never knew why he loved the Civil War so much because he was from Kentucky and those Kentuckians — bless their little bluegrass hearts — were citizens of a border state. Being a border state meant they, along with their three brethren states, had legal slavery but they were too chicken-livered (or prescient, if you think about it) to join the Confederacy in defending States’ Rights from the encroachment of the soulless Yankees.

Kentucky Colonel or no, “Sub” loved to teach us about the Civil War. We spent four weeks on everything from Jamestown to Fort Sumter and from the second week in September until February on the War of Southern Independence. Then Sub realized this was an AP class (we were his first) and we were going to have to take a big test the first week in May and he hadn’t covered a few important items from our nation’s history . . . like the entire 20th Century. Even though the War Between the States was important, most of us figured that test would have at least one or two questions on WWII and maybe even a question on the Soviet Union. So from February through the AP test, we covered a chapter in our book every two days. I made Fs on the tests, but I made a 5 on the US AP History Exam.

But I digress.

One of the things Sub taught us was the Confederacy was pretty much doomed from the start because the Yankees outnumbered us (I’m Southern born and bred. My ancestors did some stupid stuff, but you have to love them, so it’s US for me) about 5:1 or so, give or take. The war only lasted as long as it did because it took Honest Abe four years to find two men — Gens. Grant and Sherman — brutal enough to exploit the overwhelming numerical superiority. Once Grant started sending the Yankee equivalent of “human wave” attacks at our ragged boys in grey, the gig was up. All the wonderful officers and doughty farm boys in the world ain’t gonna save you when you’ve got a gun that fires 3 shots a minute at most and ten men come at you across 30 seconds of ground. The public — North and South — called those two “butchers” and accused them of slaughtering their own men, but in the end it worked and — as The Band and  Joan Baez put it so eloquently — they “drove ol’ Dixie down.”

But once again, I digress.

Even though Sub taught us about the disparity in numbers, he never addressed how we ended up with such a skewed ratio of troops. I mean, our women are far prettier than Yankee women and if you don’t believe it watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta back to back with The Real Housewives of New Jersey then tell me those “Jersey girls” can match our Belles! So if our genetic stock was (and is) so vastly superior to our erstwhile foes, WHY didn’t we have at least equal numbers of people?

Then, a few days ago, in the midst of a third consecutive day with 100 degree heat with a 115 degree “real feel”, the answer came to me — the Southern climate doomed our boys.

Imagine wearing THIS in JULY, in ALABAMA . . . OUTSIDE . . . ALL DAY!

We have two seasons in the South — January and summer. Short, mild winters coupled with ungodly hot and humid summers put our side at a disadvantage because we only had about a 2 or 3 month window each year when it was cool enough to . . . well, . . . PROCREATE.

We’re all adults here, do I have to draw you a picture?

Our Yankee foes, on the other hand, had the exact OPPOSITE issue. Minnesota? They have two seasons as well: July and winter. It’s that way all across the North. It gets COLD up there and cold is conducive to baby-making. Couple of quilts and some body heat and you end up warm, toasty, and “expectant.” Then just about the time THAT little bundle of joy gets weaned, it’s sub-zero again and the cycle starts all over.

Imagine this scenario, and before we get started, just so you know, this is the regular old yeoman farmers. This ain’t the big, high-falutin’ 100 Slave Working Coastal PLANTATION. This is a dirt poor Georgia / Mississippi, no-slave-owning upland family growing jes’ enuff cot’n ta’ git by. Mama, Daddy, a mess of kids that pick cotton too, and MAYBE — if last year’s cotton crop was awesome — a hired hand to help get the cotton in before the rain ruined it. Anyway, woman’s been up since before dawn cooking breakfast and packing food to take to the fields. She worked all day in the sun, heat, and humidity wearing more clothes than most women today wear in the dead of winter. Got home about two hours before everybody else to get supper ready and do some laundry. Fed everybody, cleaned up, gathered eggs and fed the chickens then washed her face and collapsed into bed .

In comes hubby. He’s worked all day as well. He hasn’t washed his face and hands. This was NOT a hygienic age in America. He hasn’t washed ANYTHING since last Saturday. So he slides into the straw ticking bed in his union suit and eases his hand over to just gently touch his loving wife and offer her a proposition:

“Hey, honey-bun, how’s about a little lovin’ tonight?”

Now, remember, it’s a July night when hot enough to make the Devil sigh with air thick as day old red-eye gravy. She’s sweating buckets in her coolest cotton nightgown and trying to get to sleep so she can get up in a few hours and do it all over again. She gently puts his hand back over on his side of the bed and offers him a counter-proposition:

“Hey, sugar bug, how about you keep that hand on your side til first frost and you’ll have two hands to pick cotton with tomorrow instead of one.” What’s more, not a jury in the county would convict her.

So the case is cracked. We lost the war because we were low on men and we were low on men because none of those good Southern folks had A/C in their bedrooms and it was just TOO HOT this time of year for all that foolishness.

Love y’all and keep those feet cool, dry and clean!